We are bold to pray…

We are bold to pray…

In the context of the sermon this past Sunday, I made the observation that when I pray the Lord’s Prayer there are times when it just often rolls off my tongue so easily that I hardly even notice it. Then every once in a while, I’ll hear something as I pray it, and I’m stopped dead.

The next day Colleen Peters sent along the following reflection on this great prayer, written by Frederick Buechner and originally published in his book Whistling in the Dark: a Doubter’s Dictionary. If you’ve never read any of Buechner’s work, this might just inspire you to dig in a little deeper:

In the Episcopal [Anglican] order of worship, the priest sometimes introduces the Lord’s Prayer with the words, “Now, as our Saviour Christ hath taught us, we are bold to say…” The word bold is worth thinking about. We do well not to pray the prayer lightly. It takes guts to pray it at all. We can pray it in the unthinking and perfunctory way we usually do only by disregarding what we are saying.

“Thy will be done” is what we are saying. That is the climax of the first half of the prayer. We are asking God to be God. We are asking God to do not what we want but what God wants. We are asking God to make manifest the holiness that is now mostly hidden, to set free in all its terrible splendor the devastating power that is now mostly under restraint. “Thy kingdom come… on earth” is what we are saying. And if that were suddenly to happen, what then? What would stand and what fall? Who would be welcomed in and who would be thrown the hell out? Which if any of our most precious visions of what God is and of what human beings are would prove to be more or less on the mark and which would turn out to be phony as three-dollar bills? Boldness indeed. To speak those words is to invite the tiger out of the cage, to unleash a power that makes atomic power look like a warm breeze.

You need to be bold in another way to speak the second half. Give us. Forgive us. Don’t test us. Deliver us. If it takes guts to face the omnipotence that is God’s, it perhaps takes no less to face the impotence that is ours. We can do nothing without God. We can have nothing without God. Without God we are nothing.

It is only the words “Our Father” that make the prayer bearable. If God is indeed something like a father, then as something like children maybe we can risk approaching him anyway.  – Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking



You might notice, by the way, that Buechner writes how in the Anglican liturgy the priest often introduces the prayer by saying, “Now, as our Saviour Christ hath taught us, we are bold to say,” while at saint benedict’s table I always change the word “say” to “pray.” We are bold to pray, because to my mind such words really must be prayed, not simply spoken. It is when we pray them that they do their deep and at times unsettling work, reminding us that there is yet work to be done. And thankfully, this God of ours knows us the way a parent knows a child…

Whistling in the Dark is a great introduction to Buechner’s writing, as is a similar collection of short pieces called Wishful Thinking: a seeker’s ABC. You can also watch an excerpt from a film on Buechner’s life and work by clicking here.

Jamie Howison

5 Responses to We are bold to pray…

  1. Thomas Graf says:

    I converted from a Lutheran to an Episcopalian some five years ago, not because being Lutheran was unacceptable, but because the richness of the Episcopal faith appeals to me. I took the confirmation class and asked why we say what we say. There is a meaning in the Liturgy and I am very interested in why we say “we are bold to say”. It seems to me that the Grace of God removes any need for boldness. So what am I missing in this? What is boldness?

    • Jamie says:

      Good question, Thomas. I think that the word “bold” can be understood in terms of a kind of audacity. We stand before the Creator of heaven and earth, and actually open our mouths? We use the words “Our Father,” claiming (with Jesus, and through Jesus) that the God of all things is a parent to us? And we do that freely? That is a boldly audacious thing, and one which by grace we have been given the freedom to do. It is an embrace of the truth that the gospel is hilariously good news. It is that kind of boldness!

      Jamie Howison

  2. James A. Snyder says:

    When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, Jesus said, “Pray like this:…”
    Indeed, we are bold to pray like that. But if I recall, wasn’t it rather novel for Jesus to address God as ‘Father/Abba’? That is a most intimate and informal way to address the Holy One of Israel whose name cannot be uttered aloud.It’s like calling God ‘Daddy’ or ‘Papa’. Who could be so bold (audacious, impious) to dare do that except God’s child? But here Jesus tells his disciples (and us) to address God in this intimate familial way, as God’s children…to dare SAY THAT WORD: “Papa.”
    I think—considering the immensity of the universe and the God who created and still creates it, and given our comparatively microbial place in it—THAT is a pretty bold thing to say, as well.
    Nevertheless, Buechner has remained a favorite of mine, lo, these many, many years.
    Jim Snyder, Mpls.

    • Jamie Howison says:

      Well stated, Jim. And so nice to see a comment from you on the site! (For those who didn’t make the connection, Jim is the person who wrote the remarkable reflections in our Lenten book, “Toward What We Can Scarcely Imagine and Scarcely Refuse.”

  3. Stevi says:

    I have always wondered why we were “…bold to say:”. Anyone can say anything. Saying it doesn’t imply that it has meaning. I am old enough to have been forced into reciting multiplication tables and the like and I can tell you they held no meaning to me. Thankfully the calculator was invented and I don’t need to rely on the recitations of my childhood. I enjoyed your post.

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